NC legislature OKs police footage access rules
The final edition of the bill still makes clear that such video is not a public record, which would open up access widely
By Gary D. Robertson
RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina legislature agreed Wednesday to a detailed framework for how someone can access or obtain the footage from a police body camera or vehicle dashboard camera.
The legislation is a response to the emerging criminal justice technology, which also has received more attention after a series of violent confrontations nationally between officers and alleged suspects.
The final edition of the bill, which received both House and Senate approval Wednesday, still makes clear that such video is not a public record, which would open up access widely. Bill supporters say the privacy of officers, crime victims and suspects should be protected. But it's also not a personnel record, which would limit transparency in potential cases of police brutality.
The bill says a person who is the video's subject or the person's representative can ask to view the footage. But a law enforcement agency could withhold access if the department believes it could jeopardize a person's safety, harm a person's reputation or is part of an active investigation. A requester can go to court if a sheriff or police deny the request.
A copy of a recording can only be made public or given to a single person by a court order. A Superior Court judge could place limits on its release.
The final version also contains provisions added by the Senate that lay out how local health departments and nongovernment agencies can create needle and syringe exchange programs. The programs, used in other states, have been endorsed as a way to reduce the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases when drug addicts share dirty needles.
"This bill weighs a little more than when it left here, but it's still a good bill," Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, a co-sponsor of the bill said on the House floor before the final bill was approved 88-20. The bill now goes to the Gov. Pat McCrory, who will be asked to sign it into law. His office didn't immediately responded Wednesday night for a request for comment on the bill, which also passed the Senate 48-2.
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union asked McCrory to veto the bill, saying individuals who have been filmed shouldn't have to spend time and money in court to obtain the footage.
"Giving law enforcement such broad authority to keep video footage secret ... will damage law enforcement's ability to build trust with the public and destroy any potential this technology had to make officers more accountable to the communities they serve," state ACLU policy counsel Susanna Birdsong said in a release.
The camera footage rules were developed after a House study committee looked at the issue earlier this year. Police and sheriff's departments aren't under any state mandate to use body cameras. The state Highway Patrol uses dashboard cameras.
The needle exchange provisions would allow programs to provide drug users with replacement needles and hypodermic syringes, provided no public funds are used to purchase those supplies. Program volunteers, workers and participants would avoid possible drug-related charges. The programs also would have to help participants with addiction treatment.
Birdsong called the needle program a "sensible measure to promote public health." At least one House member, Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, said he couldn't support the bill because the program was added by the Senate.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press
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